Thursday, January 29, 2015

Homemade Sriracha Sauce

Yes, sir! It will add some zip to your tacos. Sriracha sauce is our favorite hot sauce. Made of red chili peppers, it's heat can vary depending on what peppers you use. This fiery sauce is made of serrano and poblano chiles. 
Serrano chili peppers
Poblano chili peppers
It is the second batch my husband made since fall, and this one is much hotter than the first. He said he used more serrano and less poblano with this batch. Next time we may want to tone it down a bit. This stuff is HOT. 

I grew up in the Palm Springs area, eating Mexican food. It's my favorite, probably due to wonderful restuarants like the Jolly Jug which closed long ago. I still dream about their chili verde and their incredible homemade tortillas. I guess it makes sense that my favorite condiment is hot sauce. I was hoping for a good crop of chiles to make some homemade sauce. It seemed to take forever for them to mature, but our serrano and poblano peppers were worth the wait. Planted in the spring, they grew ever so slowly but finally produced a large crop. I had one plant of each variety and this is what was left after using them for cooking, and drying lots of them to be used later.
The poblano peppers are interesting in that they are actually called ancho-poblano peppers. When they are harvested while green they are referred to as ancho. Ancho chiles make wonderful chili rellenos. Once they have matured and turned red, they are called poblano. We eat them both ways but to keep the sauce a pretty red color, none of the green anchos were used for the sauce.

Here is the recipe:

1 pound mixed red chiles, stemmed then chopped. (If you prefer a milder sauce, remove the seeds before chopping the chiles. We leave them in.)
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, more if desired
2 tablespoons light brown sugar, more if desired

Place all the ingredients into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to mix ingredients into a coarse paste.

Transfer the paste into a sauce pan and simmer while stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes.

Beware that the aroma may be intense, so opening the windows may be helpful.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool a bit.

Blend the mixture again in the food processor. Add water to make the sauce the consistency you prefer.

Strain the liquid through a mesh strainer into a bowl. Press the solids using a spoon or rubber spatula to press the liquid into the bowl.

Taste the sauce and add more sugar, salt or vinegar as desired.

Allow to cool then place it in a jar or bottle.

Now let's make some tacos!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Growing Cilantro

Cilantro is probably my favorite herb. That might be due to my love of Mexican food which often features this tasty plant. It is the one thing that we always have growing in the garden. My garden is productive all year, and by sowing cilantro seeds every month or so, I have a continual supply of delicious fresh cilantro. Lucky is the Southern California gardener! 

Plant the seeds 1/4 inches deep. Seed packages recommend spacing them 12 to 18 inches apart. I plant mine closer together because usually we eat them before they get large enough to go to seed. Mine are usually spaced 8 - 10 inches apart. I tend to plant the seeds around the perimeter of my beds. Here it is growing at the edge of this bed.
Usually I will plant about 8 plants at a time because that is the amount that we use for a month. This way we have a good supply but not so much that it goes to waste. I start planting seeds in one area of the perimeter, then the next month I plant further along the edge. That way I keep planting the seeds where cilantro has not been growing recently, moving clockwise around the edge of the bed. Rotating crops will help to prevent depleting the soil so the plants will be healthy.

The seeds of the cilantro plant are also used for cooking and are referred to as coriander. The plant is an annual, so periodically I let one plant go to seed so that the seeds can be collect to be planted later, and for cooking. The bees absolutely love the cilantro flowers which is another reason to let it go to seed. The more bees, the better!
Taken in June, this cilantro was 4 feet high and covered with tiny white flowers, and bees. (Sorry for the poor photo quality.)
Like most herbs, cilantro prefers full sun, well-drained soil and regular watering. It does best in the cool months of spring and fall. In areas with hot summers it does best in partial shade. During our very hot summers, I plant mine in the shade of the tomatoes as seen above. In warm winter areas (zones 8, 9, 10), fall planting results in vigorous plants all winter. 

The plants tend to grow quickly and it is best to harvest the plants while young. Harvest the leaves by pinching off the stems while taking care not to uproot the plant. You can prolong the harvest by taking only some of the leaves from each plant rather that stripping the whole plant at once. The plant will continue to produce leaves if you don't take all the leaves at once. 

Soon the plants will bolt, sending up flower stalks. While producing the flower stalk, the leaves become sparse. At this point, you can let the plant go to seed, or dig it up to make room for something else. I usually don't let flower stalks form unless I want to collect the seeds because the plant is taking nutrients from the soil and is really not producing good leaves anymore. One large plant that is left to go to seed will produce hundreds of seeds.

This is a plant which will reseed freely. In my garden it comes up everywhere, and that is fine with me. Right now it's growing in my compost pile.
It's happy to volunteer in the onion patch.
Why not grow around these bulbs?
I guess some people would consider this tendency to reseed a problem. Not this gardener. I need lots of cilantro to satisfy my cravings for guacamole!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Upland Cress - Winter Cress that Requires No Stream

Upland cress is a delicious spicy green, and it's packed with nutrition. It is similar to watercress but Upland cress can be grown in the ground making it easier to grow in the garden. Since mine is looking so luscious, it is time for me to share some photos before it gets eaten. My husband loves spicy greens like arugula and Upland cress. He puts them in sandwiches, soups, sauces and of course in salads. They add a peppery kick, and in our family we all love a little spice. To tone down the intensity of the taste, many people prefer cooking them rather than eating them raw. 

One look at the plant and the dark shiny leaves just scream healthy nutrition. It is the darkest of the leafy greens in my garden.
Upland cress (Barbarea verna) is packed with vitamins A, C, E and K. Years ago it was used to treat scurvy as it has more vitamin C than oranges. It is known to fight cancer by raising antioxidant levels in the blood and by protecting DNA from damage. Folate and potassium are also present in this tasty green. It contains lutein for eye health, as well as iron and calcium. It can act as a mild diuretic and has been used as a folk remedy for healing wounds. Upland cress is a power food and it is easy to grow in the garden.

This is a cool weather green, and I treat it like lettuce. It is planted in the fall in the shade of my bush peas. 
You can see it at the far right in this bed. I chose to plant it there because that is the area that gets the most water. Like its cousin watercress, Upland cress likes water. Unlike watercress it does not like to be in soggy conditions. In areas that freeze, sow seeds after the last frost for early spring harvest. In warmer areas, plant it in the fall and enjoy the zesty leaves all winter. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Hanging Succulent Planter - It's Living Art

This is the year of the succulent on my little deck. Gone are the struggling plants which are always parched due to neglect. Because the deck has no automated watering system, these plants only get water carried by hand. That is to say, they rarely get watered. I'm hoping succulents are the answer, and I've been thinking about making the switch, then for Christmas I received two very thoughtful gifts from special people in my life. One is this beautiful driftwood succulent planter given to me by my daughter's boyfriend. 
I adore it, and him. You can read about it here.

The second gift was this vertical succulent planter which was a gift from my dear friend, Ramona.
To know her is to be inspired by her. She is a successful business woman whose boundless energy is contagious. She packs more into a day than you can imagine. In addition to being ambitious she is thoughtful, generous, sincere, athletic, pragmatic and beautiful. Her loving nature makes the world a better place for her family, friends, pets, plants, even the fish in her pretty pond. I just love that woman and am so very lucky to have her as a friend. Oh, the adventures we have had!

Today she is on my mind as I put together this vertical garden. Isn't that one of the best things about gardening? The quiet allows our minds to wander; restful therapy for our overloaded brains. 

The kit came with instructions but I didn't follow them exactly. The back panel slides out. There's a hook for hanging it which is at the bottom of this picture.
The planter has a black cloth barrier that is intended to keep the soil in place. 
I decided to use moss instead, so I removed the black cloth and discarded it.
I replaced the back panel and turned it right side up, then filled it with cactus potting soil. 
Laying the plants out first allowed me to arrange and rearrange them until I was happy with the way it looked. I almost forgot to make sure that the hook was at the top. Good thing I checked because I had it upside down. After fixing that issue, it was time to plant.
The wire grid leaves spaces which are only about 1 inch squares. In order to fit the plants into the squares, I very carefully loosened the soil around the roots to remove as much of the soil as I could. I found that gently tapping the rootball was the best technique for getting the soil to fall away without injuring the tiny roots. 
For the larger plants, I cut away some of the wire to make larger holes.
The smaller plants I just very carefully poked through the gaps.
To keep the soil from falling out when it's hung, I used moss. Soaking the moss in water for a couple of minutes makes it easier to use because it is less dusty and clings together better. Squeeze out the excess water,
then tuck it all around the plants.
I think the moss looks much nicer than the black cloth would have. What pretty little plants!
Thanks, Ramona!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Strawberries are Coming!

Is there anything better than fresh strawberries? Look at these beauties! I can hardly wait.
I started last year with 12 small plants in one bed. Those plants have spread and filled in nicely. They look pretty with their red leaves.
There are tiny berries hiding in there.  

In October I transplanted the runners from the strawberry plants into another bed which essentially doubled my strawberry patch. Click here to read my post about how to transplant strawberry runners. 

Here's what the new bed looked like on the day I transplanted the runners.
And here it is today.
The plants are healthy and growing well. Some straw mulch would be a good idea. That's one of the many chores on my list. Straw helps to keep the berries off of the soil which protects them from pests and prevents them from rotting. Or you can do what I do which is gently move the ripening berries so they lay on top of the leaves. That is not such a chore if you are already out there picking berries daily and if the patch is small. 

My plan is to continue to transplant runners into empty areas around our property. 

The more strawberries the better!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Braised Bok Choi

In the garden today, the bok choi caught my eye. As though wearing a crown, the leaves were edged in water droplets. 
They were delicately clinging to the edges,
defying gravity.
What a beautiful display of nature's beauty. 
And it's delicious too! Braised bok choi is what's for dinner tonight. This is a simple recipe of my husband's that I'll share with you. Although it is simple, the flavors combine to create a richly exotic taste. We serve it over brown rice.

Because this recipe is a stir fry, it cooks quickly. For this reason, I find it's best to get the ingredients ready and measured out before starting to cook. 

Braised Bok Choi

1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon ginger, grated
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 pound bok choi, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Heat a wok until very hot. Add the peanut oil, garlic and ginger, fry while stirring constantly for one minute. Add the bok choi and fry for another minute, stirring constantly. Add the sugar, salt, pepper and water. Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer for 3 minutes. Stir in the oyster sauce and sesame oil and serve immediately.

It's yummy!